Volume 10, Issue 4
One answer: compared to an undergrad, being a postgrad student means you have to pay an extra $760.49 a year to be able to get around on public transport and access your classes. This is calculated assuming a Myki pass for the whole year on PTV’s fare calculator; if Myki money is your poison instead, you’re still paying double for your daily fares as a result of paying full-fee.
Unlike undergraduate students, postgraduate students can’t get a concession for their transport fares as they can in every other state. In preparation for this article, PTV and the State Transport Minister were contacted. While they did not explain why postgraduates should be treated differently to undergraduates, they pointed out that a supposed safeguard exists - ‘postgraduate students who hold a Victorian Health Care Card or Low Income Card issued by Centrelink are eligible for concession fares’. However, it is possible to qualify for Youth Allowance or AUSTUDY without meeting the threshold of the Low Income Test. A single student with no children will have their Low Income Health Care Card revoked if they earn more than $4288.00 (or $536 a week) over an 8-week period.
This might sound reasonable: ‘low income’ needs to be cut off somewhere. However, many students – particular in heavy-load courses like the JD – are not able to work a significant amount of hours during the week. During an orientation event, a group of students in my year level were expressly told that working over 12 hours a week would not be manageable with the expected course study load.
In order to get by and have less financial stress, many students work a lot more over the break. Enough that they earn above the Low Income Test Threshold in their holidays, but are usually below it for the rest of the year. This results in having their health care card cancelled before its expiry period, and having to apply and reapply in a continual cycle.
Consequently, most postgraduate students do not have the ability to access a concession year round. And for what reason? The policy presumes a lot about what it means to be a postgraduate student: 1) that we’re either working enough alongside our degrees to pay for such amenities or are being sponsored by parents or others, or that 2) we’ve been in professional work enough to have saved such an amount that an extra transport cost is not too much of a financial burden. But undergraduate part-time students already don’t access automatic concession; we could limit a postgraduate concession to full-time students in this same way. The JD doesn’t have a true part-time option beyond extending by one or two semesters in any case.
There is no undergraduate option for Law at Unimelb. A first-year JD student who has come through three years of Arts straight into the course is often at approximately the same life-stage as a fourth-year Arts/Law student at Monash, and yet the Monash student will access concession the Melbourne student cannot. While we do have older students and those who took a break from study to work in our course (and in my own view, they should be able to access a concession too), many students including myself have moved immediately through undergraduate degrees into the course. Much in the way getting a good job has over time gone from requiring finishing Year 10, to finishing high school, to getting a degree, it now in many cases requires a graduate certification. So why do we penalise what is becoming an increasing necessity?
A simple reform to allow concessions for all full-time postgraduate students would ease the burden for many. We’ve known this is a problem for half a decade, and Victoria is alone in not offering postgraduate concessions (example: NSW’s policy).
The GSA are running a ‘Fares Fair PTV’ Facebook page which you can Like in support of this initiative. They’ve also put up a survey/petition where you can have your perspective heard on the matter.
MULSS President Anna Belgiorno-Nettis was contacted for comment on this article as to the LSS’s position. Anna has confirmed that if the GSA’s survey is still active, she will propose a motion at the next LSS Committee meeting for official support. Beornn McCarthy of the GSA has advised that the petition and campaign continues to run, and encouraged us to share it here.
This is an issue that would benefit all of the current and future postgraduate student body, and not just in the JD but across Victoria. I encourage you to respond to the survey and throw your full support behind this.
Tim Sarder is a second-year JD student
The rest of this week's issue:
Other articles by this author: